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NEWS-Burma Shakeup Aims to Fix Imag

Burma Shakeup Aims to Fix Image, Not Change Policy

               By Deborah Charles 

               BANGKOK, Nov 20 (Reuters) - The recent shake-up
               of Burma's military government weeded out corrupt
               ministers and promoted some army officers but was
               unlikely to yield major policy changes soon,
               analysts and diplomats said on Thursday. 

               Burma's surprise creation of a new ruling body, the
               State Peace and Development Council (SPDC),
               replacing the State Law and Order Restoration
               Council (SLORC), was more of an effort to change
               the government's image than to revamp its policies. 

               ``The name change is better and some people here
               are quite hopeful,'' one Rangoon-based diplomat
               said. ``There are a lot of reasons for the changes.
               But we haven't seen anything on new policies at

               SLORC, abolished when the changes took effect on
               Saturday, had ruled the country with an iron hand
               since it seized power in 1988. But the new SPDC is
               headed by the same four leaders of the SLORC and
               is led by Senior General Than Shwe, who also
               serves as prime minister and defence minister. 

               The rest of the 19-member SPDC is made up of
               new military officials, mostly younger regional
               commanders. This move was seen as an effort to
               appease younger officers who had been thought to
               be causing a split in the SLORC, analysts said. 

               Unlike the former government, in which many
               SLORC officials were also in the cabinet, Than
               Shwe is the only SPDC member to hold a cabinet

               Most diplomats agreed the main thrust of the
               changes was to improve the image of a government
               accused of rampant corruption as the country
               suffered a severe economic slump. 

               But although several new ministers are seen as
               capable, the fact few technocrats were given
               portfolios showed the generals' main motive was
               not to change economic policy. 

               ``If they'd wanted a solution to the economy they
               would have promoted more technocrats,'' the first
               diplomat said. 

               Four of the country's more prominent ministers
               dealing with financial issues were removed from the
               ruling council and put on a newly-created
               14-member Advisory Council. 

               They include ex-SLORC member Lieutenant
               General Kyaw Ba, the former tourism minister. He
               was often used as a spokesman for the SLORC as
               he worked to make tourism one of the biggest
               money-making sectors for the country. 

               The other three were former trade and commerce
               minister Lieutenant-General Tun Kyi, former forestry
               minister Lieutenant-General Chit Swe and the
               previous agriculture minister Lieutenant-General
               Myint Aung. 

               ``All those ministries had a lot of possibility for
               kick-backs and payoffs,'' said another
               Rangoon-based diplomat. ``Even within the
               government here they were considered corrupt.'' 

               Diplomats and analysts said the role of the Advisory
               Council -- made up of several former SLORC
               members, most of whom were over the age of 60 --
               was not certain. 

               ``Nobody's sure what the Advisory Council will do
               but it includes 14 people who were not wanted in
               the government,'' the second diplomat said. 

               ``It will be interesting to watch not only the Advisory
               Council but what happens to these people. There's
               talk here that they are under house arrest, and talk
               they are in total shock and don't know which way to

               The main question after the shake-up was whether
               or not the hardliners within the old SLORC -- said to
               be at loggerheads with Than Shwe and powerful
               military intelligence chief Lieutenant-General Khin
               Nyunt -- had gained ground. 

               ``It's still a bit too early to say who's who and who's
               in which camp,'' the second diplomat said. 

               But the newly created post of Secretary Three was
               given to Lieutenant General Win Myint, who was
               seen as loyal to General Maung Aye, the hardline
               vice-chairman of the SPDC. 

               The new government had not given any hint as to
               any changes of policy, and the SLORC's old
               objective and policy statements were being run as
               usual in official media. 

               Diplomats said a key test for the government would
               be next week when the National League for
               Democracy, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San
               Suu Kyi, holds a party gathering. 

               ``Under this new lot it is more likely that it will be
               held,'' the first diplomat said, noting that could help
               relations on both sides. The SLORC has cracked
               down on Suu Kyi's activities recently, leading to
               fresh condemnation from abroad.